As we get ready to embark upon a new season with the traditional pre-season training, I thought it was an opportune time to look at how we prepare as coaches. This time of the year is full of enthusiasm for the season ahead as we prepare training schedules, pre-season friendlies before kicking off that first competitive match around mid-August. But, let’s rewind a little, have we actually stripped back our coaching to prepare how we are going to coach this season?
I would like to start with the first review point. I want to define what coaching actually is (and by definition what it is not). There are thousands of people who call themselves a coach in football. I am stating the obvious here but a coach coaches therefore he does not do the following roles – team manager, administrator, cheerleader, teacher, instructor, trainer, drill sergeant, loving parent etc. So how would I define a coach? My own view is that a coach needs to be moving a player towards something. This something is a desired goal by the coachee. At this point point the player may not know clearly what that goal is yet. So the the first step is to help the player clarify their goal. In a team sport like ours each player’s goal might look very different. Therefore the skill of the coach is how he/she takes the individual goals and works it into a team goal without losing each individuals desired goal. The second step is therefore creating the environment using his personal skill and experience that help each player to move towards their stated goal. At this point, it is not about the external result but the improvement of the individual player. In team sports it is the duty of the coach (or coaches) to improve every single player in their care. Consequently, the environment created must be a learning one. Players must always be learning. The coach must facilitate this. This internal learning will drive out performance from players.
My second review point is that it is not about the coach but the player(s) being coached. Is the coach able to get them to solve their own problems and make their own decisions rather than doing it for them? It may be that coach actually needs to say less in order for the player to take the responsibility for his own learning. I believe players working it out for themselves is key to their own progression. I often see coaches jumping in too early to solve the problem ( I have done it many times myself) but this is really the coaches ego taking over. If a ‘coach’ continually operates in this manner then you can guarantee they are trying to validate themselves rather than coaching the player. It is the same for the ‘Tiger Parent’ who is consistently at the school insisting that their prodigy should have a better score or be in the top class. At some point players must stand on their own two feet and if they haven’t been coached to develop these key skills that build their resilience and character then I am afraid they may be too late for it to count.
My third review point as a coach is that failure is good. Sometimes as a coach and a parent it is extremely difficult to let our kids fail. We love them and we want to do everything to help them but the hard part is allowing them to fail from their own decision making. A coach needs to think objectively and subsequently needs to apply the process of players trying to solve their own problems. There is a big difference between a coach and a parent and that is why it is so difficult to be a parent/coach (believe me, I have direct experience of the issues). At clubs like ours it is mostly made up of parent/coaches so there is no real surprise that this brings its own problems when developing a group. The area of objectivity can be compromised but on the other hand we would not be able to run teams without this situation. There is no easy answer but I think a better balance of just having coaches who coach teams without the added pressure of being a parent would certainly help players develop, as coaches then would be able to be truly objective.
I started this post by trying to prepare for the new season by defining what coaching is in my book at grassroots level. I would like to finish with a few ideas for coaches to actually coach. I mean real coaching and not the other things that many do that I mentioned at the start. Please ask the following questions and answer honestly:
- Have you given responsibility to each individual player for their own learning?
- Have you ensured an environment of enjoyment at each session?
- Have you agreed performance goals for each player individually?
- Are you really ‘listening’ to what your players are telling you (as opposed to what you want to hear)?
- If your players are doing something different to what they are saying then what does this mean?
Finally, coaching is not about giving advice and instruction (that is teaching) but it is being able to hold up the mirror for the player so he/she can see it for themselves. Ultimately if you get it right then the player learns and performs to their fullest potential. This is success. The downside to being a coach is that this may take years both for yourself to learn how to coach properly and for the player to learn to be coached. Remember just because you are called a ‘coach’ doesn’t mean you are one but you have a duty to learn how to do it to the best of your ability.
Let pre-season begin!!